8 crimes your pitch deck could be committing without getting caught

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8 crimes your pitch deck
could be committing
without getting caught

by DAN McDEVITT


"I just don't think I can look at another crap pitch deck this week"

That's what my friend Steve sent me on Messenger recently, knowing I spend half my life advising businesses on their pitch collateral and clearly wanting to vent at me.

"Everyone seems to think they can just stick the same 10 slides in and holy shit, they've got a pitch deck," he said when I caught up with him on the phone later that week.

Luckily I had a hot cup of tea waiting for me and a blog post to write, so it was a good time to listen and take some notes.

I asked him to tell me some of the biggest mistakes he sees regularly. (He evaluates start-ups for an accelerator and sees upward of 1,000 decks a year).

He's brutally honest that he just doesn't have the time to dig into every deck and has to make snap judgements about whether to progress to deeper conversations with the founders.

"It's a crime really. There're probably loads of great ideas that I've just missed the point about because they couldn't communicate what made them special."

Well... well... well I thought, like the good friend I am. Now there's an idea for a blog post.

So here's my version of 8 crimes your pitch deck could be committing.

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Too much emphasis on the deck vs. the idea

A great idea, put in front of the right investor, will pique their interest and make them want to know more. Once you’re into conversations, the deck itself doesn’t matter as much.

A bad deck might kill an idea. But a great deck won't make a bad idea better.

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A cover page without a great one-line-summary

People reading your deck need to have the context set in the right frame so that they can easily understand what’s to come.

The cover page is a fantastic piece of real-estate that's often used less well than it could be.

Pro-tip: A great one-line framework comes from 500 Startups

“A [product type] to help [target customer] with [#1 problem] by [#1 benefit] using [our secret sauce/differentiator].”
500 Startups
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Asking investors to think too much early-on

Investors are smart. So it's rare when they don't understand something.

I've been in rooms where investors have asked incredibly deep and thoughtful questions within minutes of seeing a presentation.

Despite that, they'll easily not 'get' something if you ramble on.

The people at Docsend released a great study where they showed investors typically spent just 3.44 minutes reading a deck that was sent to them. That fits with what I've seen for any kind of pitch deck or proposal.

Most people will skim through a whole document first to get the gist, then go back and pick up on the slides where they want more detail.

So make your headlines crisp and able to tell the story by themselves.

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Including everything plus the kitchen sink

Your potential investors will definitely want to grill you on everything about your business if they're to invest in you. 

That doesn't mean they want to wade through reams of information in your deck.

It's best to visualise or summarise your main points - especially around financials. Keep the raw material to hand, ready for a deeper conversation around key metrics that will prove important. 

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Using the same deck with everyone

The deck you send out to get a meeting shouldn't really be the one you use in a meeting. And, if you present it from the stage, it really shouldn't be the same one.

For emailed decks: You can use slightly more text - it's an abbreviated document.
For one-to-one meetings: Keep the text down where possible - the slides are visual aides, not the focus.
For the stage: Stick to visuals where possible. Include headlines where needed as long as they are very short & make a strong point.

Investors also vary with what they value. Some want vastly different market size potential, while others will back a team over an idea.

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Using lots of text instead of visuals

In a pitch deck, a visual can often do a better job than text alone. In the emailed version, it's worth including a small amount of words to add context to complex visuals (such as if you're showcasing a proprietary process). 

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Worrying about the number of slides when that doesn't really matter

Investors want to see a core set of information, that's true.

And there's loads of conflicting pieces of advice about the number/exact type of slides to include.

But consider this: If you can skim a deck in 4 minutes with 20 slides (containing minimal information per page) or take 15 minutes to read a dense 8 slide deck, which would you prefer?

It's critical to include the information needed, but the way you present it needs to be specific to a) your story and b) what that particular type of investor is looking for.

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A lack of overall design & consistency

If you look at the original decks that everyone references (from Uber, AirBnB and many more), none of them will win awards for design. In fact, the versions people often showcase are ones that have been redesigned to show-off a design service.

That doesn't mean your deck shouldn't stand out. You can get free & (good) paid for presentation templates online from around £25, while bespoke presentation designers vary in price. 

I've also got a free template with 90 slides you can get as part of my Effective Pitch Decks Guide - you can grab it here.


Dan McDevitt has been a writer, designer, salesman and business owner for over 25 years. He spends every day helping businesses unlock their most powerful sales messages and is a pitch mentor for StartUp Giants.

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A true master at sales, and at no point a sales man. A highly polished individual with a world of experience in storytelling and marketing."
Lety Kemp. Head of Business Intelligence, Crunch Simply Digital